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The big three — death, taxes and gas prices

By Joe Centers • Apr 16, 2019 at 12:00 PM

One of the questions I get asked the most about with my job is about gas prices.

“You should do a story about gas prices,” I hear. “How can they charge different prices for gas out of the same tank?” And my favorite: “Who’s the person (or people) behind all of this and who can I blame?”

I always tell people if we all ran our businesses like the gas companies we would be out of business.

When the newspaper raised its price on the newsstand from 75 cents to $1 after years at that price, some people thought the world was coming to an end. When the Sausage McMuffin goes from $1 to $1.50, or when the $5 Footlong is no longer $5, something is wrong with this world. I remember when the Polar Pop at Circle K jumped from 69 to 79 cents and I felt like that was a bad thing.

But gas prices are something different. Now they will jump 25 or 30 cents at the snap of a finger. And there doesn’t seem be be a good reason.

Except this. Supply and demand. We will pay whatever is on that sign because we want to get from point A to point B.

When I was a youngster growing up in the Detroit area, we had four gas stations on our corner. That is when there really was such thing as a gas war. One station would drop their price by a penny and all of the others would follow. So back in 1970 that meant the price of a gallon of gas might drop from 36 cents to 35 cents.

We did a little traveling this past weekend and the gas prices were crazy. I filled up Thursday morning in Norwalk for $2.88 per gallon and by the time I left for Chicago in the afternoon it was down to $2.71. 

Between here and Chicago the prices were all over the board. By the time I filled up again just before we got off the Indiana Turnpike I paid $3.09. That is the first time I can remember paying more than $3 for a gallon of gas. We always fill up at the same rest stop just before we get into Chicago because I know I have enough gas to get us back home without needing to fill up again.

Don’t even think about getting gas in Chicago — at one station I saw the price was $3.99.

On Sunday I went home to see my parents. Gas in the Detroit area is hovering around the $3 per gallon mark.

I usually wait until Toledo until I fill up so I stopped at the Circle K on Alexis Road. I stopped because the billboard posted a $2.59 price at the Pilot and that was the best I had seen all day. But when I pulled off the freeway I saw the Circle K next to the Pilot and the price there was $2.42. That’s a 17-cent difference right across the street. I figured that wasn’t going to last long. Either the Pilot was getting ready to drop its price or it was time for Circle K to jump.

Again, there really seems to be no answer other than they can do what they want.

Some will say it’s demand around the world and others will blame it on speculators who invest and bet on the price of gas. Others will say the refineries are switching over from the winter to the summer blend. Believe who you want to, but that won’t change anything.

And just wait until July 1 when the gas tax in Ohio jumps 10.5 cents per gallon.

They say death and taxes are the only two sure things in life. Can I throw in the confusion over gas prices?

Joe Centers is Reflector managing editor. He can be reached at [email protected]

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